The internet is full of condescending lists of spelling and grammar mistakes you “need” to avoid. Bad syntax, synonyms, homonyms, homophones, phony phrases – all grave errors even the most careful writers could make. According to the naysayers, these faux pas could result in disasters ranging from decreased consumer confidence and conversion rates to the extinction of the Panamanian jaguar.
But don’t rush to save the rainforest just yet – most mistakes aren’t worth worrying over. If you want your copy to stay up to snuff, you only have to keep the following in mind.
There is no hidden error in this headline
The grammar police will warn you about the perils of ending a sentence with a preposition. But ask yourself this: What percentage of your visitors are actually capable of defining preposition or identifying one in a sentence? And of those that can, how many would actually abandon their cart afterwards, or go out of their way to leave a scathing comment about your site’s syntax?
For the most part, sentence construction errors won’t be noticed by your average ecommerce shopper. Sure, if you’re selling dictionaries, quill sets, or encyclopedias, you might get called out… you’ve got to keep your audience’s education level in mind. But as a general rule of thumb, you shouldn’t be trying to write above your customers’ heads anyway. Not only is it a waste of time, it is downright pretentious.
Consider that last sentence. Technically it could be structured, “It is not only a waste of time; it is also downright pretentious.” Will being technically correct boost your sales? Probably not. It could even hurt them if visitors re-read your copy out of confusion. In other words, clarity should never be sacrificed in the name of “the rules.”
The proof is in the proofreading
All these reassurances may lull you into thinking that spelling and grammar don’t matter at all – but they do, at least on a basic level. Misspelled product names, convoluted sentences that make zero sense, and the commonplace typos will make your site look unprofessional. And even if your readers don’t know the difference between they’re/their/there or two/to/too, it wouldn’t hurt to know the difference yourself.
In the end, it comes down to solid proofreading, not hunting for lesser-known sins from the first edition of Strunk & White’s Elements of Style. Start with the most important, most highly-read areas of your site: headlines, product names, customer service copy, etc. Ensure (not insure!) they’re spelled correctly and easily understandable by new readers. Try to stick to one way of writing things, preferably referring to a company style guide. Focus on looking and sounding good.
Once the simplest issues have been handled, spend your copywriting resources on more important tasks, like developing and maintaining a tone of voice that amplifies your company’s brand. As long as your site’s writers/editors are capable of cleaning out the most obvious mixups, you’ll be fine.